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b. 1976, United States

Titus Kaphar Biography

Contemporary American painter, sculptor, filmmaker, and installation artist, Titus Kaphar interrogates the history of representation and its current legacies by physically and conceptually transforming familiar images from the colonial art historical canon.

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The Kalamazoo-born artist, now based in New Haven, Connecticut, turned his attention to art in his mid-twenties largely to impress a woman named Julianne, who would later become his wife, as he explained in an interview with Terence Trouillot for artnet News. He ended up studying art at San Jose State University, graduating in 2001 and receiving an MFA from Yale in 2006.

During his studies, Kaphar realised that the language of concealment in art history hinders any historical understanding of black identity. His work has since aimed to challenge present-day inequalities and social injustices, using the language and legacy of European and 19th-century American historical painting to do so.

To deconstruct historical images, Titus Kaphar uses techniques such as over-painting, cutting, shredding, and stitching. In Behind the Myth of Benevolence (2014), the artist literally peels back the curtain on myths that 'deify' the founding fathers. A crumpled canvas painting of Thomas Jefferson falls away to reveal a painting of a black woman, uncomfortably confronting the mythology of the founding fathers as benevolent slave owners.

With a similar intent, Shadows of Liberty (2016) shows an altered heroic painting of George Washington, where strips torn from a ledger listing slaves on the former American president's estate are nailed to his profile.

While Kaphar seeks to 'amend history', his aim is not to erase or eradicate the past or its by-products; rather, he re-focuses the lens of representation, shifting the gaze to unspoken truths of American, world, and personal histories.

In other artworks, Kapahar uses his physical interventions and appropriations from European art history to examine contemporary social issues. The Jerome Project (2014–ongoing) includes Renaissance-style, gilded mugshots of African American prisoners, dipped in tar to speak of the social impact of the American justice system.

In response to Time Magazine's commission in 2014 to portray the iconic Ferguson Protestors, Kapahar created Yet Another Fight for Remembrance (2014). An image of black protestors in familiar 'don't shoot' poses has been interrupted with violent white strokes of paint, suggesting attempts to silence their voices, while black lines retracing their outlines reassert their voices and identity. Through these gestures, the painting mimics the struggle for social justice.

During a TED talk in 2015, Kaphar employed a similar whitewashing technique with a different emphasis. Live on stage, he created Shifting the Gaze (2015) by thinly painting over figures in a 16th-century Frans Hals aristocratic family portrait to highlight the presence of an often overlooked black servant in the painting.

Alternating between critiques of historical and contemporary representation, Titus Kaphar's work has quickly gained national attention, garnering awards that include the 2016 Robert R. Rauschenberg Artist as Activist grant, and a 2018 Art for Justice Fund grant. His works have been presented in solo and group exhibitions across the United States, including the Studio Museum in Harlem, MoMA PS1 in New York, and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC; and feature in prestigious public collections, including New York's Museum of Modern Art, Brooklyn Museum, and the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM).

Beyond his own artistic practice, Titus Kaphar's concern with social engagement led, in 2017, to the establishment of NXTHVN (Next Haven)—a New Haven-based arts and residency programme that gives emerging artists and creative professionals the opportunity to connect to vital networks and resources.

Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2020

Titus Kaphar
representative works

Titus Kaphar
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Represented by this
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Gagosian contemporary art gallery in 980 Madison Avenue, New York, United States
Gagosian Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco +7

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